Should I be using heat or ice treatment for my pain?
A very common question we often hear in our clinics is whether someone should be using heat or ice treatment to help manage pain.
The answer to that will always depend on the type of injury or pain, and how long it has been present for. It is very helpful to know which one to use, and it’s also important to understand what heat and ice do to your body when they are applied.
When ice is applied to an area of the body, it acts to slow down the movement of fluid in the area. Our blood vessels constrict and become narrower to reduce the amount of blood flow to the area. This can be an effective way to prevent an area from swelling.
Ice is ideal to use for an acute injury, straight after it has occurred. Generally ice is used for the first 24-48 hours after an injury, to prevent swelling.
Use an ice pack for 20 minutes at a time, every 2 hours if required.
Heat is used to increase blood flow to the area of the body that it is applied to. The blood vessels expand and widen, to allow more blood, oxygen and nutrients to the area. We need all of these elements for healing, so therefore, heat will encourage the healing process.
Heat also helps to relax muscle, so can be quite beneficial for chronic muscle tightness and tension, as well as joint stiffness.
For acute injuries, heat is good to use after the first 48 hours, when you stop using ice, and the acute bruising and swelling has slowed down.
You can use a heat pack for 20-30 minutes at a time, every 2 hours.
Heat can also be helpful to use to warm up an area before exercise, especially if you are recovering from an injury.